Date of publication (more or less): June 4, 1995
Copyright © by Michael Finley; all rights reserved.
But Monday morning, the esteemed system operator at Ivory Tower, code-named Topper, in real time a respected corporate risk management consultant but by e-time the host to a motley gaggle of wiseacres and cybersages, stopped me in e-mail.
"Saw your interview in USA Today," Topper said. "I thought, I know that guy! Good going!"
It was the first I heard that the story had been published. The Money section of that highly readable newspaper did a cover story on Miami Dolphins coach Don Shula's new book on teams, which I haven't read.
But, since I had just co-written a book called THE NEW WHY TEAMS DON'T WORK, USA Today figured I might add something to a discussion of work teams and sports teams.
At first I was wary. My co-author. psychologist Harvey Robbins was the team expert; I was more the ink-stained wretch of the piece. Surely the reporter would rather talk to him?
But she didn't, so I had to answer her questions, which I did, very delicately for the first few minutes. No, Harvey and I weren't against teams. We just found they were harder to do in reality than lots of consultants and biz gurus have been saying.
Then she put it to me: "What do you think of these sports coaches like Shula and Pat Riley writing books about work teams?"
That was when I got a little inappropriate. "We think the analogy of sports teams to self-managing work teams is weak," I said. "Does Don Shula empower the individual members of the Dolphins to make decisions on their own? Does he create an atmosphere where people are allowed to -- encouraged to -- make mistakes? Does Shula show the kind of loyalty to team members that they need to do good work, or does he trade them to Indianapolis at the first sign of injury?
"These sports guys run entertainment teams, and they perform very well under great stress, but there's no carryover to the kind of teams everyone else is on."
"Wow, this is great," the reporter said, dooming me with her encouragement. What else would she like to hear, I asked myself. With forensic epee in hand, I lunged.
"What do you think women on teams think when the boss passes out hardbound copies of the wit and wisdom of Coach Shula to improve team performance? What is the role of women on his kind of team? Are they important team members, or are they assigned some subsidiary team role involving Spandex and push-up bras? Are women engineers and accountants and computer people supposed to toss aside their training and pick up pompoms? This is cynical opportunism of the worst sort," I tsk-tsked.
Oh, I was in full plumage now. "Football players aren't team members in the modern sense of self-managing teams. They're just functionaries doing what the coach told 'em to do -- throw the ball, catch the ball, kick the ball, knock the opposing quarterback on his sacrum. If they were true teams they'd be compensated en masse. But they're all paid on individual contracts, and traded the moment 'the team' inches toward its salary cap."
The froth on the phone line was starting to break up the signal, but that didn't stop me. "Professional athletes don't know the first thing about teamship," I told the rapt reporter. "The first thing they instruct their agents to negotiate is private rooms on the road. After the game they leave in 45 cabs. Disgusting, don't you agree?
Coaches don't know the first thing about teams, I said. Half of them spend half their time trying to get the other half fired. Defensive coordinators punch out their offensive counterparts on videotape. Go 'team.'
"I've heard those old recorded Knute Rockne exhortations. 'Go out there boys, and fight, and fight, and win, and win.' He sounded like he should be breathing from a bag. Does Shula think people are going to interact better, communicate better, be smarter, have better heads for business because some guy in a golf cart hyperventilates all over them at half-time?"
As it turned out, USA Today didn't use all that. Come to think of it, maybe I didn't even say all that. But I know in my heart I was thinking some of it.
And it occurred to me, as the interview concluded and I hung up the receiver with a palsied hand, what an empowering device the humble telephone, this black dumbbell-shaped piece of vinyl, really was.
Some reporter from USA Today calls you from half way across the country. That's a miracle right there. At the sound of the tone the endorphins kick in. Within the space of about a minute, you who used to sequester yourself in your own gym locker when you saw your high school front four ambling down the terrazzo floor, 30 years ago, is picking a fight like a banty rooster with the most respected coach the NFL has ever known and his six-and-a-half-ton, meat-breathing, reporter-murdalizing retinue.
All because he knows the Vikings aren't facing the Dolphins this fall. What's the matter, fellas -- you chicken?
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Transcompetition: Moving Beyond Competition and Collaboration
by Harvey Robbins, Michael Finley
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